Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I am not a fan of the saying, “New Normal.” It’s what counselors say when their patients are going through a serious loss, of a job, a marriage, a family member. For me though, it implies that there was an “old normal, or a “normal” at all. What the hell is normal? They should just tell you, “Your world is likely to be turned upside down in the months to come…there is no way of predicting when or why or how it will manifest. People you trusted will turn on you, and people you could never rely on before may surprise you. Things you never thought could even be fathomable may happen. The earth’s poles may shift. See you next week at 4!”

My dad died two months and 4 days before I turned 40. A pretty monumental event, coinciding with my entrance into “middle age”. His memorial service was exactly one week before my 40th birthday, so I kind of skipped it. No, I honestly skipped it. Nothing to celebrate last year, I wish I could have gone to sleep on the 24th and woken up on the 26th. Some people were unsure of what to do with that information, because a lot of folks say things they don’t mean, “No, please no bother, I don’t want to celebrate”, and then become enraged when there’s no surprise party. I am not one of those people, and thankfully, most of the people in my life understand that. There are no hidden meanings, or gifts I deftly hinted at. I say what I mean. Now 41 is within a week. Do I want to celebrate? You know, not really, but not as vehemently as I didn’t want to last year. I don’t need big plans…I’m just going to let things unfold. I still want to get my tattoo, that will be the main thing I will do for 41. In any case, what I’ve really noticed in and around entering this decade is how many things have changed. Things have changed in fact, in perception, and in understanding, of damn near everything in my life as I’ve known it up to this point.

There aren’t many people on this earth that truly understood the special bond I had with my father.If I had to hazard a guess, I might say 4, and none of them are in my family. Some say it was because I always needed him to validate me. Some may believe it’s because he spoiled me mercilessly and because I resembled his beloved mother. I believe it’s partially because I was the only positive thing that came from the end of a terminally ill marriage, a little new baby face in the midst of a colossal failure. It’s a miracle I even got here. 
Still, it was more than that. He got me, and he was the only one in my family who truly did. I never had to use millions of words to try to get to a place of understanding, he just understood. That didn’t mean we’d let those words go to waste though, we were both talkers, ad naseum at times. The things that drove us crazy about one another were the things that we saw as our own shortcomings…we were overly-emotional and dramatic, had the tendency to just obsess and gnaw on a problem until the bones were licked clean, and to complain. Actually, complain isn’t a good enough word, it was more dramatic. We lamented. Why couldn’t so and so be different? Why did this person not accept me? Why didn’t I reach this goal? Whine, whine, whine…but it never felt like that at the time.
It felt like sharing my soul with my kindred spirit, and most importantly, it felt safe.I still have long talks with him, and ask all the same questions…but the conversations are one-sided now. He hears me, and I’m sure he answers me, but not always in ways I recognize. I accept that his responses to me are out of my control, and I may not be able to truly hear them until I get to a better place, but I’ll keep talking!

I’ve recently been dealing with a deep rift, a major fracture in a relationship I had counted on as always staying strong and true.  I was blindsided.  I know people lash out when they’re in pain, when they’re unhappy, but I never would have imagined in a million years that this person would turn on me as they have.  I have been shredded into tiny pieces over being such a disappointment, for not caring, for withholding my love, and not meeting deep and seemingly totally unrealistic expectations. This has happened over months and months now. I originally found myself apologizing, scrambling to undo what I had no idea I’d done in the first place, only to have the sincerity of my apology put into question.  With good reason, actually…how DO you apologize for something you have no recollection of doing, and when it’s pointed out to you, you don’t agree with the assessment of the wrongdoing?  The apology was void, I agree.  But in the grand old tradition of being myself, the fixer, I would have done anything to smooth things over, so I kept trying.  It didn’t work.  As the months progressed, more and more and more of my shortcomings were pointed out, my lack of support, of loyalty, of love, of desire to spend time with them.  I didn’t feel this way, I absolutely loved them, with my whole heart and thought I was doing everything in my power to illustrate that.  An unfinished argument ensued, an ugly, judgmental one.  I wasn’t going to concede that I didn’t care, because it wasn’t true. It quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy however, because now I absolutely feel the way I was originally accused of feeling.  However, when my “deluded thinking” was chalked up to a questionable mental state, I had to stop.  When I was pitied for being in a state of functional depression and anxiety and being “medicated”, I had to stop.  When I was begged to get the things “fixed” in me that were “broken”, I had to STOP.  No more poison, no more slashing at my heart.  STOP.  How many people do you know who would be foolish enough to come back for more?  How mentally unstable would that be? 

Have I been in a state of functional depression? Of course I have! It’s only been a little over a year since losing my father, and it didn’t matter that it was expected. I’d been braced for it for years and years, yet I could not imagine a life without him in it. It left a giant hole in me. Some days are perfectly fine, and I can get work done, laugh, spend time with my children, take care of my home and family and everything is roses. Other days I don’t want to get out of bed, but when I dream, they’re bad dreams. So there’s no real escape from grief, and I know that time is the only thing that helps. I have enough experience with alcohol and other things to know that even the escape they would provide would be fleeting, and leave me feeling worse after the fact. It’s been a year…and I’d thought I’d been making some progress until this current relationship exploded. I’m now dealing with two major losses. This last one may pass, most folks think it will, but it’s not so much what actually went down that saddens me. It’s the lens I see through now, as though I’ve been given a different pair of glasses to look at this person now, as well as in the past. They were on a pedestal…forever. Their shortcomings were consistently and intentionally overlooked, for decades, it’s not as though I didn’t notice them.  I merely excused them. A pardon, if you will. Forgetting birthdays consistently, hell, it happens. Never a thank you card or call after receiving a gift, or flowers, or for giving up my own Master’s degree ceremony to be at theirs? Of course I would be there, it wasn’t a question, but there was never a thank you, and it was always okay. They were infallible. With these new glasses on, I see different things, traits that have always been there in varying degrees. Arrogance. Self-Righteousness. Elitism. Just plain meanness. Why did I ever want to play for this team? It's one thing that I played along as a teenager, and a young adult (and I did)…but into my 30’s? Why wasn’t I able to see it? Why did I view these traits when I DID see them as being acceptable? Was it merely because they weren’t directed at me? What makes it worse is I would jump onto the mean bandwagon, and be one of the minions, standing behind and cheering as other’s faults were pointed out, with no regard to what damage might be done to their emotions. So it’s more than sadness over a lost relationship, or fear that so much is changing, it’s disgust with myself, that I was such a poor judge of character for so very long.

The people I trust most in the world  help to shore me up, and they’re very good at it, my friends. They know me best, and they know where my weaknesses lie and what I’m the most afraid of. I’ll feel relieved, vindicated, and at peace with the difficult, but nonetheless accurate truth that people and relationships change, often for the worst. I’ll accept it, and believe it. With the most recent loss, I received probably the best advice ever, “Stop petting the rabid dog.” But then it’s as though at the end of the night I forget to totally close the door in my soul, a tiny crack is left open, and all the nasty, tiny dark spiders of self-loathing and doubt begin to stream in. It doesn’t matter if they make sense, it doesn’t matter if my heart and mind know they’re wrong. They’ll still swarm in and make themselves at home for awhile…and they whisper….”They’re right about you. You’re weak. You’re selfish. You care more about your outside than you do your inside, you’re a selfish mother, you’re sloppy, you have no patience, or loyalty, or integrity.” When these begin to swarm, I write their voices down in my personal journal so as not to torture any of you who may be reading this. In fact, my personal journal could be titled, “Pathetic account of self-loathing.” And it is pathetic…in reading back over it, it’s always the same. So not only is it rather stupid, but it’s also unoriginal and boring. Man, I can't even make that interesting! The only antidote I’ve found for this is being busy, and that’s not terribly reliable, especially when they creep up in the middle of the night, or like now, when I’m on vacation and have entirely too much time to think.

In experiencing all of this, I am learning quite a bit. Firstly, support can come from some pretty unlikely places. People in my life to whom I’ve often been unfair to, and jumped on the “mean” bandwagon toward have forgiven everything, and shown me nothing but love. Close, close friends I’ve had for nearly 30 years now are experiencing the exact same thing. To the point of humor…how can this be? How can these people in our lives all lose their fucking minds at the same time? I’m sad for my friends, but also praise God for it, thank you that it’s not only me! Thank you that maybe I don’t actually suck and that it’s their problem and not mine! The more folks I talk to who are around my age are either experiencing something similar currently, or have very recently. And the reason is all the same…we’re tired of walking on eggshells, we’re tired of trying to contort ourselves into uncomfortable, unnatural positions in order to keep everyone else happy, we’re sick of being scapegoats and doormats. Toxicity has to leave now, thank you very much. Peace is out there, and is attainable, but not under these circumstances. Houses, hearts, and souls need to be cleaned out. It’s painful as all hell, more painful than I ever could have imagined, but it’s time to let it go. I’ve written a couple of things on Facebook recently referring to what I’m currently experiencing. One was to not meet meanness with more meanness. That will simply validate the person and lead them to believe that meanness is normal and acceptable, and it’s simply not. There is a LOT of venom inside of me, a lot of below the belt things I could pummel this person with, but I am proud to say I have not, and will not. It doesn’t make you feel vindicated, or as though you’ve gotten someone back, or let them “not get away” with something. Letting that kind of ugliness out into the world hurts your own inner being and soul more than it hurts the target. And it’s for that reason that this person remains in my prayers, as hard as that is. Another recent observation was that if people focus on what they aren’t getting in friendships and relationships, instead of focusing on the love and support they do receive from them will be perpetually disappointed and unhappy. There was no amount of attention that I could realistically give this relationship that could have possibly sufficed or satisfied them, and the reason is it’s not really about me. It’s what’s missing in them. And while this feeling may change over time, the saddest part of all of this is my recognition of how little I believe I will miss this relationship. It’s a relief in so many ways…I don’t have to knock myself silly trying to please, I don’t have to run in circles, I don’t have to entertain and be constantly available. All I need to do is be true to myself, and the truth is that I need peace in my life now, more than ever before.

So I’ll continue to face hard truths, and be prepared as one can be for the poles to continue to shift. I’ll continue to pray for the people who have hurt me the most, but that’s the most I can offer them at this time. I will keep the poison out of my bloodstream, and surround myself with the amazing souls I’m lucky and blessed enough to have in my life. I will check and double check the door to my soul to make sure there aren’t any cracks left open to let the little mean-spirited, evil beings sneak in…and I’ll try to keep my appointment at 4.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scheduling Sadness (Alternate title: What a WUSS.)

So I’ve been trying to figure out, with the help of many of my friends, what the deal is these days. Is this just what happens when you enter your 40’s, that you’re faced with more and more sadness? Is it the state of this country at the moment, or the state of our STATE, which is in the crapper? Am I just extra sensitive since I lost my father a little over a year ago? It just seems as though SO many sad things are happening around me, and to the people I love. The premature cancer death of a young parent, leaving young children without a mother. The premature deaths of souls that were so riddled with pain and despair that they turned to suicide. Hundreds of talented and dedicated teachers, waiting to hear if they’re still employed. The stories of the children I work with, getting to me more so than they ever have in 14 years, maybe with the exception of my first year. The worry I carry with me for the teens with whom I work, and the challenging lives they’ve been given, knowing that I can’t fix them. Major fractures have occurred in family relationships, fractures that I never saw coming and may not ever be totally mended. And always, in the background, is my father, and the knowledge that I can’t just pick up the phone and talk about all these things with him. So what to do? I don’t cry in public. I don’t cry at work (although I have cracked a couple of times lately). It still needs to get out, but what would an appropriate avenue be, and when can I fit it in? Well…I schedule my sadness.

In the weeks and months that followed my father’s death, my family knew that if mom went out in the backyard with her Ipod, she needed alone time. Music is probably one of the main things that will make me cry, and there are good reasons. “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks is a good one, and it makes me cry because I have vivid memories of my father singing that song around the house in his beautiful voice. Pretty much the whole soundtrack to Pippen makes me cry…just because we were forced to listen to 70’s showtunes on vinyl constantly while growing up. The same goes for a Chorus Line. Later, it’s songs from shows that he and I saw together, like Phantom and Les Mis. So those all make some nostalgic sense. Other songs get to me for different reasons, such as “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway, just for the lyrics and the purity of his flawless, perfect voice. “The Scientist” by Coldplay is another one, because once while visiting my father, I decided to deep clean his bedroom, where he’d been confined for years. It took about four hours, and it was a tiny bedroom. I was absolutely covered in years of dust and dog dander, it was a major undertaking. I vacummed as he dozed, and on my Ipod, the lyrics “Nobody said it was easy, it’s such a shame for us to part. Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard. Oh, take me back to the start.” This was probably more than a year before he actually passed, but as I listened to those words as I cleaned, tears poured down my face, and I was so happy he was sleeping. Much less obvious, is Justin Bieber…I know! It’s terrible. But the boy has one or two songs that make me tear up, but I have a good reason, I swear! As I’ve mentioned before, last October I took my dear daughter to her first concert as an early 10th birthday gift. I didn’t feel like going that day, I was dreading it, as a matter of fact. But we had an absolute blast, and as much as I’ll lose my musical taste cred to admit, the boy put on a great show. The songs make me tear up because of how happy we both were that night, how much fun we had, and how I realized how quickly my girl is growing up. How much longer do I have before she wants me to do what I heartlessly instructed my own mother to do: Drive me places with my friends and not talk? Will there even BE another concert we’ll attend together, or will the next one simply involve me dropping her off with friends, and driving back to pick them up? So the memory is precious, and yes, the damn songs make me cry.

Then there’s dance, which I have always loved…yes, I became a major fan of So You Think You Can Dance several years back. One year there was a dance that depicted a daughter being reunited with her father in Heaven , to Billy Porter’s “Time.” It aired originally several years before my father actually died, but it killed me then, and it kills me now. ANY time I need to cry, I watch the clip or listen to the song. There was another dance a few years later about addiction, same choreographer, to Sarah Bareilles’ “Gravity.” It was so incredibly powerful and amazing, I think I’ve watched it about 50 times. Dad struggled with addiction, and I’ve had issues myself, so that clip or the song can also get me going. So these all make a certain amount of logical sense.

Some movies are obvious. I love all of these movies, but there are parts in particular that just kill me. The end of The Color Purple has guaranteed to start the water works with me since I was in high school. The moment when Celie realizes that her sister is there with her children gives me chills to this day. More recently, the last half hour or so of Billy Elliot, especially the last 5 minutes when his father finally sees him perform the lead in Swan Lake and the tears in his eyes and look on his face…so beautiful. I hear it’s on Broadway now, I’d never survive it. The last half hour of Away We Go also does it, just because I can relate so much to being terrified about being a parent and all the things that could go wrong, but you just do it, you move forward. Finally, the perfect place for the couple is her childhood home, which has stayed empty since both of her parents died. Then there’s the scene in Garden State when they go down to the weird little boat-apartment in the quarry where the man lives with his wife and baby. It’s his job to watch over the quarry, and explore it further. It seems like such a dreary place to Andrew, but the man explains how happy he is, in this simple life, with the woman he loves and the beautiful baby they made together. Andrew tells him when they’re leaving, “Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!” And the man says with a knowing smile, “You too.” It’s pouring rain, and as he leaves with his friend and girlfriend, Andrew just suddenly realizes…life doesn’t have to be like this. He doesn’t have to be a numbed, medicated mess that never moves forward and stays paralyzed in the past. Happiness is attainable. He throws his head up to the downpour and spreads his arm wide. He and his companions then climb onto a large piece of equipment, a tractor of some kind, and just yell their lungs out. He lets out all that pain and loss, and suddenly realizes he can start over. It’s just brilliant and beautiful…and one of the best soundtracks EVER. I simply adored Where The Wild Things are, but it was the trailer that killed me. That was one of the best movie trailers ever, set to one of the best chosen songs ever, “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. It’s hard to explain why it touched me so much, but it did, and does.

Then the TRUE wuss comes out. I cry at those “Foundation For A Better Life” commercials. Yes, I do. Not all of them, if that makes it any better. The montage with friggin Kelly Clarkson singing “Breakaway” does it. The one when the young man chases the bus to return the lady’s purse does it, as does the one with the Vato-looking dude giving his seat on the bus to an elderly Asian lady. The most recent one that got me was when an elderly lady is grocery shopping and she can’t reach the salad dressing. A tall man comes by and reaches up and gets one for her, and she’s very sweet and thankful. They don’t always show the entire commercial, but the rest of it involves the lady looking up to see that the dressing is 2 for 5$. She again tries to reach them herself, and a number of them come tumbling down around her…she looks alarmed, and then says, “I better get out of here” and makes a run for it away with her shopping cart. THAT makes me cry because it reminds me so very much of my own dear grandma, gone nearly 11 years now. Earlier this week I couldn’t contain myself during an episode of “The Deadliest Catch”, I still haven’t gotten over the fact that Captain Phil died. I loved him. He was just 100% DUDE…loved his kids, cursed like the sailor he was, smoked like a chimney, hollered at his kids when they needed it, which was a lot, and took NO crap. He was just one of those salt of the earth guys, a man's man. Not pretentious or arrogant, or trying to be someone or something he wasn’t. Did I know this man? Nope…it’s a television show, for crying out loud. But I truly have a hard time watching it now…too sad about Phil.

But what can truly make me cry the most consistently and more than anything else? Freaking GLEE. Oh my sweet Lord, what has happened to me? Firstly, Lea Michelle’s voice just leaves me completely undone. All those kids are talented, but there is a tone in her voice that gives me chills it’s so amazing. Add her voice to songs FROM musicals that I went to see with my dad? Forget it, I’m done. “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Mis put me over the edge. “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line does it. “Defying Gravity” from Wicked does it too, even though I’ve never seen it. It was in its last weeks in San Francisco about a year ago, and my sweet husband actually offered to take me. He detests musicals, but knows how much I love them. I just couldn’t do it, I was afraid I would bawl the entire time…and I’d be in public. I won't cry in public. It’s still a goal of mine to be able to go see and enjoy a musical without falling to pieces, it may require an intervention of some kind. “Papa Can You Hear Me?” was almost too much. I never saw Yentl, but it doesn’t matter. Her voice is so pure and I miss my father so much, it just fits. Then there’s the show itself…it’s clever and funny and makes me laugh. But it’s also so incredibly groundbreaking and sensitive and sweet. The best character EVER written for television as far as I’m concerned is Kurt’s dad. He’s a blue collar guy, a mechanic, raising this very flamboyant gay son alone. He’s in uncharted waters, but his love for his son is astounding and touching and it always makes me cry. When Kurt comes out to him, he already knew, of course. When Finn is raging at Kurt about the room they’re to share because their parents are dating and moving in together, and begins to yell at Kurt about the “faggy curtains”, etc., the ferocity in which Kurt’s dad comes to his defense is so real. Any parent knows that feeling, the Mama or Papa Bear who will demolish anyone who dares to hurt their cub, physically or emotionally. He’s willing to forego his own happiness he’d have by living with his girlfriend rather than to subject his son to ridicule. Later, when Kurt’s friend Blaine approaches his dad to inform him he needed to talk about him about sex, you could see how uncomfortable he was. Blaine mentions how special Kurt’s bond is with his dad, and how much he wishes he could have the same bond with his own father, who still wishes he was straight. As he’s leaving, Blaine says, “I hope I didn’t cross the line.” Kurt’s dad simply replies, “You did.” The next scene when he’s set the stage to talk to his gay son about sex is hilarious…there he is, with his pamphlets spread out on the table. Neither of them want to participate in this conversation, but his dad makes it happen anyway. And the sweetest part? He emphasized the emotion that accompanies sex, and how teenage boys are generally only after sex. So it’s actually worse with two boys, because there’s twice the chance of someone’s heart getting hurt. It was so awkward and sweet and genuine. My husband detests Glee…he glanced over at me at this point and says, “You’re crying at THIS?” Of course I was!!! That was one of the best scenes ever. THAT is what pure, unapologetic love looks like, the love this man has for his son. What is more beautiful than that? (Sidenote: My husband is an absolutely wonderful person. There are just a number of things that I love that he doesn’t get. And he’ll wholeheartedly admit it, while being forced to watch people dance on television, “I just don’t get it.” God bless him).

So while being faced with too much reality, too much actual sadness and tragedy, I hold it together. I remain composed and professional, while trying as hard as I can to help any way that I can. However, when I can find some privacy, I will weep openly, from music, dance, film, and a musical sitcom aired on Fox. Who knew?

Sincerely, Major Wuss

*And if anyone was wondering, I wept while I wrote this, whilst listening to songs from Glee on my Ipod in my backyard.